[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Apex Book of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar. It’ll run every Monday to Friday until I run out of interviews. Two of these interviews will be reprinted in Apex Magazine but the rest are exclusive to SF Signal.]
Kaaron Warren’s novel Slights was published by Angry Robot Books in August and she has two more novels coming out, in February and later in 2010, from the same publisher. There’s also her Ishtar novella from Gilgamesh Press and a story in Datlow and Mamatas’ Haunted Legends anthology. She’s won Aurealis and Ditmar awards and is currently based in Fiji. She can be found at kaaronwarren.livejournal(for your day-to-day travel talk and fun stuff) and at kaaronwarren.wordpress.com (for interviews, reviews and writerly talk).
Q: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how would you describe your writing? Is it fantasy, horror, science fiction, or something else?
Thanks for asking me. I do think I write a mixture of all of those things, with a dose of the real, if slightly off-kilter, world thrown in.
Q: What’s the appeal of speculative fiction for you?
Anything is possible in Speculative Fiction. Anything. I guess in Hard SF you need to ensure that your science makes sense but beyond that, whatever you imagine you can make work in your story. I love that. I love writing about enormous trees, and awful hells, and teenagers in suspended animation, and laughing cults and haunted apartment blocks.
Q: What made you decide to become a writer?
I don’t know that it was an actual decision. More of a gradual realization that I was a writer. And a longer realization that I could sell my writing.
Q: How has your experiences living in Australia affected your writing? How about living in Fiji?
Fiji: I’m definitely in my “Fiji” stage. My story in the British Fantasy Society’s anthology is about a man building a resort in a cursed place and how the chiefs haunt him. In The Apex Book of World SF, “Ghost Jail” is a comment on censorship and propaganda. The setting was inspired by two towers of derelict apartments. These had been condemned ten years earlier, but the families who lived there were not chased for rent, so there they stayed. Eventually the place was torn down, but we never really heard what happened to the families.
Australia: The landscape affects me strongly. The bush is a place a lot of us fear but also find beautiful. It’s fearsome because it’s so unforgiving and nighttime is so dark in the bush it’s like you have never seen.
Q: Compared to other countries, Australia has a rich and vibrant speculative fiction field. Why do you think fantasy and science fiction is popular there?
We have a very strong reading tradition and great libraries. Our education system is pretty good and we’re encouraged to think broadly and ask questions. All of this leads to imagining ‘what if?’
Q: How about Fiji, have you encountered the speculative fiction field there?
No. I have met some writers, but Fijian writers mostly concentrate on the realist side of fiction. I spoke to Anurag Subramani, writer and lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of the South Pacific. He is working on what will probably be Fiji’s first speculative fiction novel. He said this about Fijian speculative fiction:
As far as your question regarding the speculative field of fiction in Fiji, local writers write almost entirely in the realist mode. The works of writers such as Satendra Nandan, Raymond Pillai and Subramani are grounded specifically in the historical past of indenture. These three are part of the original wave of writers who emerged in Fiji especially after the setting up of the USP in 1968. Later writers such as the playwright Larry Thomas also work in the realist mode, Thomas being concerned with the everyday struggles of Indigenous Indo-Fijians and Part-Europeans living on the margins of society. The new wave of writers including Cresantia Koya and Susan Sela also write in the realist mode, Cresantia being concerned with issues of gender and identity. The Rotuman playwright and now film-maker Vilisoni Hereniko was actively involved with play-writing and producing plays at USP in the 80s. His first play “Seras choice” was about cross-cultural relations. His one-act play “The monster” (1988) is a political allegory coming after the 1987 coup. The Indo-fijian poet and academic Sudesh Mishra’s play Ferringhi is an example of fiction that moves away from a realist mode – very symbolic and works on multiple levels.
The only speculative fiction I have come across is mainly unpublished- our very limited publishing – of secondary and tertiary students. I remember a high school student in Lautoka had written an epic fantasy a la Harry Potter. High school and tertiary students have also written science fiction and horror published in institutional magazines.’
I spoke to Anurag’s creative writing students and set them a writing task which involved combining cuttings from The Guardian newspaper and their local experience. Out of the six stories read aloud the next day, four were horror or science fiction and one was a crime thriller. So the ideas are definitely there, and the talent as well.
Q: In your opinion, is there a quality in Australian fiction that distinguishes itself from the rest of the world?
Not really. We do have an Australian voice because our experiences are different, but our literary influences are similar to the English and American writers. We are also close to Asia and the Pacific Islands so gain further influence from those places.
Q: Currently, do you identify yourself more of an Australian writer, a Fiji writer, or both?
I think of myself as an Australian writer deeply influenced and moved by my three years in Fiji.
Q: How is the Internet affecting the speculative fiction community?
Apart for the social aspects, which are very clear, I think you are constantly inundated with ideas and characters. I will look at sites like Scandalous Women or The Double-Tongued Dictionary or TruTV for inspiration, and will research forums and other places to gain understanding of character motivation. For example, when I was writing my story “His Lipstick Minx” I read comments from oil rig workers, to try to understand their mind set.
Q: Could you tell us something about your upcoming novel, Mistification?
“Walking the Tree” will be the next novel now. We shifted the timetable! It is set on a large island about the size of Peru which is almost completely filled by an ancient, massive tree. The novel tells the story of the isolated communities of the tree. School consists of the young women walking with the children around the island. The kids learn about how other people live as they walk, and the women seek their perfect physical partner. In part it’s a follow up from my novella “The Grinding House”, because the people of the tree are terrified of the disease Spikes. I changed the name of the disease from Spurs, for fear the UK readers would think I was talking about a football team!
Q: For unfamiliar readers, where can we find more of your work?
My short story collection, The Glass Woman, is available from Amazon.
My novels came be found at Angry Robot Books.
For a list of all my published stories and links to the anthologies they appear in, please take a look at my wordpress page http://kaaronwarren.wordpress.com.